Current challenges for nationwide bicycle routing

Pushed by several initiatives by funding agencies and backed by legal initiatves (“ITS law” internet) Austria’s administrations and transportations services worked hard during the last years to establish a consistent “graph integration platform” (GIP), a standardized platform for storing and managing network-related information, from bus routes to major highways to remote hiking tracks. The goal is to provide a high-quality data basis for all sorts of adminstrative tasks and duties (e.g. legal orders) and for applications.
There is a lot of discussion about how, where and who should use the data. Open data advocats plead for full access (their major argument is, that the data aquisition and management was funded by public money). Others say administrative data are for administrative purposes only. VGI geeks argue that crowd-sourced data are of better quality anyway etc. Although I find the debate valuable, necessary and from an academic point of view very interesting, I won’t go into this for now …

I’d rather like to turn to a promising and at the same moment challenging (conceptually and technically) application which is entirely built upon the GIP. The so called “Verkehrsauskunft Österreich” (VAO), a multi-modal routing service for Austria, can be accessed since December 2013 in a beta version: internet. Try it. It’s a really smart application.
Within the VAO consortium a working group is dedicated to routing services for non-motorized modes (pedestrian & bicycle routing) which are already parts of the VAO but should be constantly improved. The working group tries to tackle really sophisticated challenges such as: level of detail, urban vs. rural environments, safe vs. fast route and many more.
Since we have collected experiences from previous routing projects (e.g. internet) and we are currently involved in a project which evaluates how to build our indicator-based assessment model internet on GIP data, I was invited to present our approach in a meeting of the working group last week. The aim of the meeting was to evaluate if and how synergies between a regional and a nationwide project can be used in the future. And by the way, I’ve learned a lot! Here are my slides:

An extensive and stimulating discussion with experts from the VAO consortium and from two federal state agencies (Salzburg and Tyrol) showed once again, that bicycle routing is everything but trivial. In fact, we are all dealing with the same/similar issues:

  • What are the major criterias for the route choice of different users in different situations with different needs?
  • How can these highly specific demands be connected to a cost function?
  • Should the cost function be pre-processed or calculated during runtime?
  • Which data are needed to model the cost function for different environments?
  • Is it possible to model cost functions for the whole area at once?
  • How can expert knowledge and specific, local characteristics be integrated in a modelling approach?

Generally it can be said, that the effort for data preparation and modelling for sound routing recommendations for bicyclists and pedestrians is very high and – inversely rated – the user’s error tolerance is very low.
For the central region of Salzburg we have already proven that it is possible to efficiently provide valid routing information for bicyclists, based on different data models/sources in different environments. Now it’s time to lift it to a next level and work on concepts and solutions for larger areas.
Have you got any ideas for the questions raised above? What are your experiences with bicycle routing services? Do you know any good or bad examples? Leave a comment or use the contact form. I’m looking forward to learn from your experiences!

P.S.: A detailed description of the VAO and GIP projects can be found here: internet (english version)

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